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Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! submit to external free expression check-up

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) has just released its annual report, which takes a critical look at how three of its founding members, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, are giving information to repressive governments or working with unscrupulous vendors.

The full findings won't be released until 2013, but the report details how external auditors are being granted unprecedented access to the workings of the three Internet giants to see if they are ready and willing to implement GNI's principles on free expression and privacy.

Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists (which belongs to GNI) said, "Six years ago the idea that the titans of the Internet would open up their inner workings to outside scrutiny seemed a stretch."

According to the report, all three companies "need to engage more directly with human rights groups and scrutinise vendors more closely."

GNI specifically faults the tech industry as a whole for insufficient restrictions surrounding "dual-use" hardware technologies, such as routing and network equipment, that could be used for censorship and surveillance purposes.

The report also raised concerns about vendor contracts in place before GNI was established in 2008, as well as the need for tech firms to make specific disclosure to users when their data might be viewed by government authorities. It also recommends better free expression and privacy training for the board of directors.

GNI is a voluntary group of Internet companies, freedom of expression groups, progressive investors, and academics that includes IFEX members CPJ, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship. It aims to provide a global standard for the Internet and technology sector when dealing with government requests affecting free speech and privacy.

Read the annual report here.
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